Rosemont, IL — After Sunday’s Game 3 loss, Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker said her team got rattled down the stretch and as a result “settled for outside jump shots.” Going into Tuesday night’s Game 4, another chance for LA to punch its ticket to the WNBA Finals, the Sparks were looking to start fast and with more of a, well, spark.
And start fast they did. Behind Kristi Toliver’s masterful shooting —she was perfect from the field and finished with 21 points– Los Angeles jumped out to an early lead and never looked back.
Balance was the name of the game throughout, with three Sparks players finishing in double figures: league MVP Nneka Ogwumike, Parker and Toliver. Every additional Sparks player who got on the court scored (with the exception of forward Sandrine Gruda who played all of 23 seconds).
In the third quarter, Chicago was able to cut the Los Angeles lead to eight points because of their defensive pressure and creation of high percentage shots in the low post, but they had dug themselves in too great a hole to take the lead.
The Sparks had been too much all game, and now they are headed to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2003.
It may be easy for the casual WNBA fan to forget that Parker has played in the league for eight years, but never been in this position to compete for a title. After all, she’s solidified herself over and over again as one of the premiere players in the world, winning league MVP awards in 2008 and 2013.
Night in and night out crowds see Parker play her smooth, poetic, and oft-unstoppable game. It’s just what she does.
Tonight she reached a new pinnacle: taking the franchise back to the Finals. But her path has been a jagged one.
“My rookie year we came in and went straight to the Western Conference Finals. [They would go on to lose to the San Antonio Silver Stars]. And of course, you’re young; you think ‘oh we’ll be back next year.’ That didn’t happen. And the next year and the next. Then you look up, and it’s 8 years later.”
That is why Parker says she can fully celebrate and savor the moment of tonight’s win.
“I really appreciate this,” Parker said. “We’ve had our ups and downs, and we’ve done it together.”
Ogwumike echoed Parker’s message.
“C is one of the most deserving people of a feat like this. We’re relishing in the moment, we’re excited, we’re ready, and we’re going to focus – after tonight – going to focus and prepare for what’s next.”
What’s next is Maya Moore and the Minnesota Lynx, the defending WNBA champs. Moore and Minnesota are no strangers to big stages or big rings, and the Sparks have a tall order ahead of them.
Late in the fourth quarter, the game was just out of reach for the Chicago Sky. Parker hit a wild three-pointer with the shot clock expiring. She turned toward the crowd, with a huge, toothy smile across her face.
That’s the joy Parker has played with her whole career. And, now, it’s the joy she’ll play within the 2016 WNBA Finals.